It’s working: A teacher’s report on the Common Core

A recent Gallup Poll reveals our nation’s teachers are divided on the Common Core State Standards. From the perspective of teachers, disgruntled from decades of changing standards, many see the recently decreased test scores and students authentically struggling on deep and meaningful tasks, and assume the worst—it must be a fault in the Common Core and the exams. These critiques have been echoed by others and represent a serious misunderstanding of what is occurring in classrooms across the United States where the Common Core standards are being implemented. The truth lies in the fact that teachers in states who have had more time and experience with the Common Core increasingly support the new standards.

From the perspective of a teacher, I see the exact opposite of what those opposed to the Common Core describe. The Common Core provides exactly what students need—high standards that are pushing educators and students to excellence every single day. I want schools that will allow all children to discover their passion, give them the tools to follow that passion and help them succeed in 21st century colleges and careers. As we have seen in Kentucky, Common Core implementation has coincided with higher performanceand greater participation on the ACT. While correlation does not prove causation, it should come as no surprise that a focus on close reading and analysis of text ultimately leads to greater college and career readiness.

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Common Core ELA | Myths Versus Facts

There is a lot of hype going around about the Common Core.

Successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards requires parents, educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders to have the facts about what the standards are and what they are not.

The following myths and facts have been published by the Common Core State Standards Initiative to address common misconceptions.

Myths About Content and Quality:
English Language Arts/Literacy

Myth: The standards are just vague descriptions of skills and do not include a reading list or any other reference to content.

Fact: The standards do include sample texts that demonstrate the level of text complexity appropriate for the grade level and compatible with the learning demands set out in the standards. The exemplars of high-quality texts at each grade level provide a rich set of possibilities and have been very well received. This provides a reference point for teachers when selecting their texts, along with the flexibility to make their own decisions about what texts to use.

Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.

Fact: With the ELA standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary nonfiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.

Myth: The standards do not have enough emphasis on fiction/literature.

Fact: The Common Core requires certain critical content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are made at the state and local levels. The standards require that a portion of what is read in high school should be informational text, yet the bulk of this portion will be accounted for in non-ELA disciplines that do not frequently use fictional texts. This means that stories, drama, poetry, and other literature account for the majority of reading that students will do in their ELA classes. In addition to content coverage, the standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

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Report: Teachers Want More Time, Resources To Prepare for Common Core

Excerpt from David Nigel of THE Journal:

While more teachers today feel confident about their ability to teach Common Core State Standards, more than three-quarters of them reported they need more time to find teaching materials and develop lesson plans, according to a new survey of more than 20,000 teachers from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Scholastic.

The report, Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change, conducted by Harrison Group in July 2013 among 20,157 teachers nationwide, is generally favorable toward Common Core standards and other Gates Foundation priorities, such as teacher evaluations.
The report found that, despite an increased sense of preparedness from teachers (with 75 percent of teachers feeling “increasingly prepared to teach the Common Core” compared with 59 percent in 2011), 76 percent of teachers said they “require additional planning time, with a similar number pointing to a need for quality CCSS-based professional development (71 percent). Two in three (67 percent) teachers need guidance and ideas for teaching in an inquiry-based way and about six in 10 need CCSS-aligned curricula (63 percent) and more information on the content of the CCSS-aligned assessments that are being developed (59 percent),” according to the report.

Is Common Core Changing Reading Instruction?

Kathryn Starke is an urban elementary school reading specialist, literacy consultant, keynote speaker, and author of a multicultural children’s book, Amy’s Travels.

In 1998, my home state of Virginia developed the Standards of Learning, much to the dismay of students, parents, and educators who had been teaching a particular unit, theme, or objectives for many years. The SOLs, as they are often referred to, are a statewide curriculum created to ensure that all students receive the same instruction in the core subjects no matter what public school you attend in the Commonwealth. At the end of every school year, students in specific grade levels take statewide assessments to show what they have learned. Reading in particular is assessed starting in the third grade and throughout elementary, middle, and high school.

I learned everything about this new curriculum in college so as a first year teacher in Richmond Public Schools, I would be fully prepared to implement the SOLs in my second grade classroom. However, this change for veteran teachers was not so easy. In fact, the SOLs have added pressure to the lives of teachers in many schools due to the fact that the end of year tests results are often used to evaluate the classroom teacher’s instruction.

Common Core Standards:
A Teacher’s Blueprint

Have our state standards changed reading instruction? Yes. Has it been effective? Sure. Do the Standards of Learning still exist? Yes, in fact they have already been revamped to make more rigorous reading instruction in Virginia. I believe a similar transformation will be seen nationally with the common core curriculum.

Think of the language arts common core standards as your blueprint, while you, the classroom teacher, is responsible for meeting this standard by selecting books and developing lessons that motivate, engage, and educate your boys and girls.

It is wonderful that all children will be exposed to the same instructional objectives throughout the nation. It is important that teachers remember to be their creative and innovative professionals by making the standards work for your students. For example, we know that an elementary school community in Miami, Florida will not look exactly like one in Lincoln, Nebraska. While both third grade teachers may be required to use more nonfiction text to initiate close reading and deeper comprehension, each teacher must select a text or topic that matches the interests and backgrounds of his or her own students.

Teaching our students the strategies behind reading and how to think about a text will certainly change reading instruction in a positive manner. Encouraging our students to make connections, predict, reflect, analyze, and form opinions before, during, and reading a text is empowering and can be done with a variety of texts and through mini lessons from kindergarten to twelfth grade. As teachers, we are the leaders in our classroom and are responsible for our students’ learning. The common core standards may create a new style of teaching and new form of learning, but it’s how we implement these standards with our twenty-something students that will determine the change.

sitepicAbout Kathryn Starke
A native of Richmond Virginia, Kathryn graduated from Longwood University with a BS degree in elementary education and a Master’s degree in Literacy and Culture. She has taught first, second, and third grade and served as a literacy specialist for a decade in inner city/Title I schools in Richmond, Virginia.

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Who is an ‘English-Language Learner’?

Staff writer Adrienne Lu, from Stateline ( has published a new article on how English-language learners are defined differently across states, and the impact a common definition across the United States will have on students, parents and teachers. 

If a U.S. student learning English were to drive across the country, he would find that in some states he would be classified an “English-language learner,” eligible to receive extra support.  In other states,  the same student would not qualify for the special designation—or the additional help.

In California, for example, English-language learners spend part of the day focused on learning English. The rest of the day, teachers help them learn the same material as native English speakers, with some modifications. For example, they might be divided into smaller groups with other limited English speakers, or receive a preview or review of the lesson in their native tongue.

The label matters, because under the federal Civil Rights Act, schools are required to provide English-language learners with additional services to ensure they master English as well as the material other students are learning.

The wide variety in policies also creates headaches for students who move from state to state, or even from one school district to another, as they may suddenly find themselves lumped into a new category.

Now that nearly all the states have agreed to adopt common standards in English and math, known as the Common Core State Standards, some states are striving for a common definition of an English-language learner. The task likely will take years, given the political and policy thickets that need to be cleared.

A common definition would help English learners to receive better educations, said Robert Linquanti, project director for English Learner Evaluation and Accountability Support at WestEd, a nonprofit education research organization based in California, and one of two co-authors of a recent report.

“If I’m a parent with a kid who’s been designated [an English learner], I want to know that the educators at the school have enough understanding about where my kid’s language proficiency is and where they’re aiming to have my child go,” Linquanti said. “If we have varying definitions…it’s much less likely my students will get a coherent set of services.”


California, which has about 1,000 school districts, has “1,000 different definitions of what’s an English learner,” Linquanti said. “A kid could be an English learner in one district, cross the road into another and be considered not an English learner. It has an effect on the quality of instruction a kid can receive.”

From the school years 2002-03 to 2009-10, the number of limited English proficient students in K-12 nationwide grew by 7 percent, to 4.65 million. California has the highest percentage of English-language learners with 23 percent of enrollment in public schools in 2010-11.

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